Report: Syrian military deserters say Assad regime specified number of civilians to kill

Special to

WASHINGTON — The regime of President Bashar Assad has ordered the
military to escalate attacks on protesters and provided troops with
guidelines on how many dissidents to kill, a human rights group said.

Human Rights Watch asserted that the Assad regime has ordered the
military to kill civilians during every protest. The New York-based
organization said commanders were given guidelines from regime
leaders, including Assad, on how many protesters must be shot.

Syrian anti-government protesters tearing down a portrait of late president Hafez Assad, right, and his son, President Bashar Assad, in Hama. /AFP

“For 5,000 protesters, for example, the target would be 15 to 20
people,” HRW quoted a Syrian Army sniper as saying.

In a report released on Dec. 15, HRW said the military has ordered troops to fire on peaceful demonstrators in an effort to quell protests, Middle East Newsline reported. The organization, which interviewed 63 deserters from the army and intelligence agencies, said the military removed all restrictions on regime violence, including live fire.

“Normally we are supposed to save bullets, but this time he said, ‘Use as many bullets as you want,’ ” a deserter from a special forces unit quoted his commander as saying.

The report, titled “By All Means Necessary: Individual and Command Responsibility for Crimes against Humanity,” was released as the Syrian Army intensified operations in the Dera province near the Jordanian border. The Syrian opposition reported heavy fighting between rebels and Assad
troops in which at least 27 soldiers were killed in Dera on Dec. 15.

“With regards to President Bashar Assad, who is the commander-in-chief
of the Syrian armed forces, and his close associates, including the heads of
intelligence agencies and the military leadership, Human Rights Watch has
collected additional information that strongly indicates their direct
knowledge and involvement in the violent crackdown on protesters,” HRW said.

The deserters said the military was ordered as early as April, less
than a month after protests began, to quell unrest by “all means necessary.” They
said commanders assured their troops that they would not be punished for
killing unarmed civilians, including bystanders. Soldiers who refused orders
were said to have been killed.

“Our general orders were to kill, destroy stores, crush cars in the
streets and arrest people,” a soldier who defected from the Syrian Army’s
5th Division said.

By September, HRW said, the opposition organized rebel forces that
attacked Assad troops on a nearly daily basis. The report, which echoed a
study by the United Nations, identified 74 commanders and officials who
directed the regime campaign of killing and torture.

One of the regime figures was identified was Mohammed Ibrahim Shaar, a
commander of military police who became interior minister in April. The
United Nations has reported that more than 5,000 people were killed in the revolt, the vast
majority of them since Shaar became minister.

Brig. Gen. Jamal Yunis was identified as ordering his 555th Airborne
Regiment to shoot protesters in Damascus. HRW quoted a deserter
from the unit as saying that Yunis received the shoot-to-kill orders from
Assad’s younger brother, Maher, commander of the 4th Division as well as the
Republican Guards, in May.

“Initially, when the protest started, Brig. Gen. Jamal Yunis told us not
to shoot,” the deserter, identified only as Osama, said. “But then he
received additional orders from Maher. He had some kind of paper that he
showed the officers, and then the officers pointed their guns at us, and
told us to shoot straight at the protesters. These officers later told me
the paper contained orders from Maher to ‘use all possible means.’ “

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